Saturday, June 3, 2017

700 or just a little Beyond-We all need our Heaven

Somewhere there exists a photo I have been looking for.  Maybe the shot is in my Facebook stream.  The image in my mind’s eye right now might be a print lost somewhere in the boxes and boxes of prints created before photography all went digital. 

What you see as you look at the picture is a view from the second floor of a house in Sea Isle City, NJ.  It was taken in full sun.  The snap does not look toward the ocean but in the opposite direction toward the bay. Looking out over the brackish water to the west you see the posts and other artifacts humankind has abandoned in the marsh.  You also can see the mainland. The lower third of the image is of the railing of the elevated porch from which it was taken.  The railing is a beautiful rainbow of greens, pinks, yellows and a couple of other shades I don’t remember at the moment.  These are beach colors, aqua green and flamingo pink but dusty and lightly faded. The view from that particular spot is my heaven.

Sounds odd doesn’t it, a sliver of a second story porch with just enough room for a few chairs, a birdfeeder and a tabletop fountain facing north as nirvana.  Who would think of their beautiful reward as sideways vista of a salt marsh?  How could that be anyone’s heaven?  Well it isn’t anyone’s heaven, it is my heaven. 

This space was created by the love of two very special people, people who have been my friends (and one of them a relative for a short while) for more than 2/3rds of the life I have lived so far.  Partly these people, with their sense of balance in life, in time and in nature, make that particular view my heaven.  Partly the marsh to the left and the ocean to the right make this my heaven. 

The unending life force of the sea meets the cauldron of life on land, the salt marsh.  Partly, this is heaven because of the spirit of joyful life that is found at a seaside resort like this during the hot days of August. Heaven, my heaven.  I don’t know if sitting in a chair listening to the gulls call and feeling a sea breeze is your heaven but I am okay with any differences we may have on this point.

Often in these current days, which I find very dark and troubling, I go to that deck in my mind and just watch the circling seagulls.  I shut my eyes and shut down this world of spiritual pain. I listen internally to the sound track of a life time.  Words of my parents flow by just as readily as do the tunes of Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.  I find myself rereading mentally the pages of books that have impacted me.  I dive deep into the constructs I have brought into my heart and mind over the years.

I think I can tell you why the current situation hurts so much.  The control of our lives is held in the hands of men mostly whose values are totally opposite of what I have believed, worked for and voted for all my life. The only choice I have when I leave the reverie is to live and act and speak according to the values I have always clung to not worry about what the rest of my fellow citizens do.

Yeah if I am on that deck I am mentally younger and fitter.  If I am on that deck I am surrounded by love.  If I am on that deck I might even be high.  Haven’t done that in 25 years but when it becomes legal, and it will become legal fuck you Jeff Sessions and your frightened old white man ways, I might partake again.  When I am on that deck I am at peace, quiet, gentle peace.

There is a poet I urge everyone to read.  His name is W.S. Merwin.  His poetry comes at you head on and then sideways.  When I am mentally taking refuge on that seaside second floor deck I have a copy of Moon Before Morning next to me on the table.  I have a large assed Wawa coffee with lots of cream.  A cigarette is burning in the ashtray (remember this is a mental moment) and I am reading aloud to whoever will listen the following poem entitled Ancient World.

Orange sunset
In the deep shell of summer
A long silence reaching across the dry pasture
In the distance a dog barks
At the sound of a door closing
And at once I am older


Thursday, June 1, 2017

OCR (Ocean City Reefer)


This is one of my all-time favorites.  What it entails was of the time. I wrote it about five years ago... 

 

Okay, here is the deal. I haven’t written anything in a couple of weeks. I am going under the knife on Monday for gallbladder surgery. If I don’t post now I won’t be posting for another long period. Thus, I will post a rough draft of a story I started a couple of years ago. Enjoy.

The island community of Ocean City New Jersey has a sign that proclaims itself “America’s Family Resort” The sign is clearly visible as you roll across the 34th Street bridge, across what was once salt marsh and brackish water. The crisp white and blue sign harkens back to the time when the legacy of the Methodists ministers remained strong. These were the men who in 1879 laid out the city as a retreat for the rejuvenation of the Christian soul and body. When I was a boy spending my summers catching rays and body surfing, Ocean City was closed for business on Sundays. The rides, the shops, everything but restaurants and newspaper stands were locked up tight on the Sabbath. Then as now, no liquor was sold on the island.

In the summers of the early 1970s the concept of family in America was feeling stress. The behaviors manifested by the younger members of our nation’s nuclear families were clearly not those that would have been endorsed by those 19th century Methodists. The disintegration of the traditional multi-generation clan style of family, the social rebellion of the 1960s and the pervasive influence of television had created a group of 14 to 20 year olds that were out of control. This was a generation traveling the fringe. I was one of the Boomers and we were pushing the boundaries and entering into the borderlands that lay beyond the social mores of the time. Summer and suntan lotion just made it worse.

My family’s home was about 60 miles away from Ocean City. It was a farm town that in the summer was hot and dusty. There was nothing for a kid to do there except to work at the packing houses. Summer there was unloading and sorting produce and getting into trouble with the cash earned at those tough backbreaking jobs. In 1970 beer was cheap and pot was available. My father decided that after the summer of 1970 we should flee our hometown and go to the beach.

 

Two specific things led to this. First was the gun incident. Second was the fact that my Mom found my pipe (commonly referred to in the then current lexicon as my bowl) in the bottom of my dresser. She didn’t know what pot smelled like or she would have been sure I was going to hell. But she did know there was not a right reason on God’s green earth that a 14-year-old should have a pipe with a wire screen in it stashed in the bottom of his dresser under his t-shirts. Imagination in hiding places was obviously not my strong suit. The gun story was a bit more complicated I will set that out in a different post.

As a result of the incursion of violence and drugs into our family life my father decided we should spend entire summers at the beach. I didn’t know how I would handle that, I knew nobody at the beach. My relatives spent all their summer down there, but I had not hung out with them for any time since they moved away from our home town when I was six. Up to then we had been thick as thieves.   A great deal can change in a decade.

My mother was a teacher. In the late 1950s she was in her forties. In what must have been a great surprise to her, she got pregnant for a fourth time in 1955. In April 1956, I came along. Her sisters were in tune with this and five cousins on my mother’s side were all born within roughly six months of each other. Add a few months and that number rises to six. Mom took a couple of years off to make sure my initial rearing went okay. She then went back to teaching and I was dropped off at my aunt’s house with my cousin, Billy. Well no sooner did I get there then Jimmy was born, and then Dottie Mae. We played together. We ran about. We did all the things kids did and we were almost an inseparable living organism. Then they moved away. My Uncle bought his own funeral home about 45 miles away. But in the crowded east coast megalopolis they might as well have moved to the moon, they were gone. Twelve years later we would reawaken that friendship.

[Okay so this is an old draft of a story that I never finished. I should be honest and fill in the three paragraphs that would explain how when I got to the beach I fell in with my cousins and we were tied on so many levels it was hard to believe we had seen each other every day of our lives. I would also have to explain how we all worked at the same card store/gift shop/newspaper stand together and it was sort of like the Taxi sitcom, all nuts, all the time. Also, I would have to work in how I developed a somewhat as they say now complicated relationship with a woman named Nan. Just go with it. My cousins and I were tight and their names were Bill and Jim. My complicated kind of love interest was Nan and she was far too hot for the likes of me. The final thing I would have to add is that we spent every single freakin’ day on the beach working on our tans. The rest of the story picks up when my cousins, Nan and I went to the beach. Oh, my cousins lived half a block away from me and none of us lived more than 1 1/2 blocks from the water.]

So there we were ready to head to the beach. I was happy that Nan had deigned it acceptable to spend some time with me on the strand of sand. Billy had Aunt Sugar’s big orange blanket. Well, we used it as a blanket. What it had been in its earlier incarnation was the bedspread for a full-sized bed. It was an orange of the kind that it could have been used as an emergency signal. The edges had a fringe that was a series of white strings that were about two and a half inches long. It was unmistakably Aunt Sugar’s because there would be nobody else who would have something like this. Jimmy was going to join us at the water.

Having been up until 3 a.m. the night before we did not get an early start, noon maybe 1p.m. we headed out. Towels, check, jug of water, check, beach umbrella, check, beach tags, check. Off we went.

 

The day was perfect and the beach was crowded. Once you worked your way through the suntanned bodies down to where the water was retreating you had a space. This late in the day it was the only place to find space to lay out your towel. As you lay on your stomach your torso was separated from the beach itself by the coarse orange material the bedspread now beach blanket.  I was set on reading Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Other people around me on the strand were reading the tome of the season, perhaps it was Looking for Mr. Goodbar that year, or Jaws. Each of those books had a year where they were everywhere. Propped up on your elbows holding the book in one hand you would develop a little bit of perspiration. This body generated moisture would arise after about half an hour and would glisten and be uncomfortable. It was like nature’s own timer telling you to go swim, body surf, frolic and then return to reapply the sensually scented Bain de Solei tanning lotion and to lie on the other side of your body.

Any idyll on a beach towel with a young beauty is something when you are 16. It is forever. It is filled with the promise of nothing and everything. On a beach towel on a warm day you can nap. You can talk about the world, politics, sex, dope, whatever. You can take a slug of ice water from a thermos. You can watch the sun-tanned girls go walking by. You can see a two-year-old run to the water and run back again. Or you can try and figure out what to do about your doofus-assed cousin who seems intent on getting everyone sent to prison.

As Billy, Nan and I lay there experiencing warm eternity on a summer afternoon, Jimmy finally found his way to the beach. Jimmy had no filter.  It wasn’t clear what had happened or when it had happened. When we used to spend time together in the little ranch house as kids Jimmy was smart, and he was apt to follow the normative behaviors expected of us all. But in the years since I had spent time with him he had dramatically changed. It was subtle and hard to discern at first but as time went on it became very clear. Jimmy had challenges seeing the lines of normal behavior and color within them. It some ways he was like Neal Cassidy, the hipster beat. 

Jimmy no sooner had sat down on the towel than it became apparent he was in full non-conformance mode. As my cousin sat on the towel cross legged he proceeded to pull from out of his swim trunks an ounce of marijuana, you basic bulging glad sandwich bag of green leafy vegetation. None of the three of us noticed at first as we were engaged in number of divided attention activities, conversation, people watching and being generally lost in sunny day bliss. Jimmy however was on a mission. Joint by joint he winnowed down the pot he had in the bag. One joint, two joints, five joints, ten joints; slowly but surely the little outcropping of Mt. Cannabis was arising from orange island of my aunt’s blanket. 

Glancing down the beach I noticed that the beach wardens were doing their rounds. Ocean City like most of the other lily white towns had instituted beach tag fees in the year before this incident. The fees were ostensibly designed to provide funds for beach clean-up and maintenance. The real purpose was a bit more sinister. In essence the real purpose of beach fees was to keep the riff raff out. And let’s be specific hear, riff raff meant people of color, whatever color it might be other than white. The tags were effective to this end. The tags also provided a basis to have deputized folks walking down the beach keeping an eye out for the evil John Barleycorn. As I noted this was “America’s Family Resort,” and allowing the use of alcohol on the beach just wouldn’t be right. If the demon rum was a problem, how would you think the quasi police tag patrol would take to a bunch of stoner teenagers openly flaunting the drug laws of our country? Remember Spiro Agnew was still the Vice President. Remember also that it had only been a year or so earlier that Casey Jones and White Rabbit had been banned from the airwaves by the FCC.

Noticing the impending arrival of terry cloth short wearing justice, I in hurried consultation with Nan and Billy made the executive decision to wad up my aunt’s beach towel with the joints inside and go. In my mind the safer course seemed to be, given the number of eyes around that might mention my cousin’s behavior to the beach patrol, getting the dope off the beach. Nan and I decided/ended up being the blanket bearers. The plan hastily formulated was that we would take the blanket back to my parent’s beach apartment and hide the pot back behind the apartment building, possibly in the outdoor shower. 

For those of you that have never had a beach apartment in the 1970s in New Jersey, they invariably had an outdoor shower of some kind. These can range from a cold-water affair with a watering can type of nozzle or they can be quite elaborate. The one behind my parent’s apartment was in between. It was basically a small shed with a bench and some storage, with the hottest water you could ever want and a shower head that gave off needle fine spray. I used to luxuriate after a day on the beach taking a 20-minute-long shower until my skin was lobster like red. The simple pleasures they are what count most in life, aren’t they?

Walking quickly Nan and I covered the distance between the beach and the house, it was a relief to turn into the side path that led to the back of the house. Not having been busted by the police, the beach patrol or any other authority we simply needed to get to the shower shed, stash the joints for Jimmy to pick up later and we would be in the clear. Walking quickly Nan and I would simply need to avoid any prolonged contact with my mother as we passed the screen door to the kitchen/dining room. These apartments were stacked four in a building and were long and thin. The living room was in front, followed by a bedroom, then the bath, then the kitchen then a second bedroom. The living room had a pull-out couch and the place could accommodate up to six or seven people if they were appropriately stacked. The outdoor shower was appended behind the second bedroom

As we passed the kitchen, our luck tanked. Trying not to stop I heard my aunt, my beloved aunt’s voice, call out. The aunt talking to me was Billy and Jimmy mom and I had her dayglow orange beach blanket wadded up in my hands. “Jay bird, where are you going and what are you doing with my towel?” Trying to be nonchalant I said hi and tried to pass by without engaging in conversation. My aunt called again and I could hear her chair shifting as if she might get up and open the door blocking our passage. “Jaybird, give me my towel.” “Aunt Sugar” I managed to choke out, “Billy and Jimmy are going for a long walk on the beach and they asked me to bring this up to the house. It is full of sand, let me shake it out in the back by the shower.” Silence and it seemed luckily no discernable movement by my aunt followed. This was a false reading of the reality of the situation and the moment’s respite did not last long. 

I don’t remember what she said next but it became clear she was going to come after the towel if it wasn’t in her possession in the next fifteen seconds. There was no time to take it into the shower shed. Lacking a better plan, I just shook the towel vigorously toward the house. Nan was slacked jawed. The joints went flying. Tapping against the back of the house the reefer sticks bounced gently toward the ground. About 18 joints lay within a foot or two of the back wall of the shed and the apartment. My plan was that I would now walk the towel into my aunt and pick up the joints later.

This heart attack on a plate would just not end. As I took my first step toward the side door I noticed the landlord descending the steps that came down from the second-floor apartment. These steps ran just above the shower. Mr. Dee, the landlord seemed to be in a talkative mood. As I remember the situation now it seemed he wanted to be introduced to the bikini clad Nan. No mystery there. Nan’s young tanned, firm and vibrant body was about as easy on the eyes as any nubile beauty could be. Dee, letch or not, would have had a hard time ignoring such pulchritude. In a stroke of good fortune for us the old man driven by the small brain never took his eyes off Nan’s chest. Luckily this meant that he did not notice the 18 joints (or two years of jail and probation if you looked at it another way) lying about the back of his building. Having feasted his eyes, and a period of time having passed that was moving into the awkward realm of socially unacceptable staring, Mr. Dee turned and headed out back to where his car was parked.

I sprinted to the side door to give my aunt, the Sherlock Holmes of teen bad behavior her towel. I say that because she had busted me by finding my gallon of wine hidden among the garbage cans behind her beach house one time. I say that because she routinely checked the nooks and crannies of her garage and found my Mary Gin, on loan to my cousins, stashed in the rafters. A Mary Gin removed seeds and stems from pot to allow crackle free smoking. Handing her the clumped up but shaken out towel seemed to defuse the situation. Nan in the meantime gathered up the joints. She hid them out of sight in her now lumpy bathing suit bra top. With nary another word, we headed out. I don’t remember where we went but anywhere but there was the destination.

Another near disaster narrowly avoided. Once again it was not my fault, and once again I was simply trying to avoid things from spiraling out of control at the hands of someone else. Yup, there in the heart of “America’s Family Resort” I had dodged another bullet.

 

 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day




Sunday morning
. It's about 9:30 AM. The air temperature is just right. I have a Weight Watchers meeting at 10:30. I've decided to walk to get there. Because so many of the people I weigh in with run 5k races, I've set my fit bit to kilometers for the day. I want to see how many kilometers I walk in my average morning walk. Running just isn't about to happen.

Everywhere as I progress toward the meeting people are seen shoveling mulch. A couple of folks are in their yards with snipping shears. One gentleman is digging in his perfectly manicured front lawn. Why I inquire? He tells me he is fixing the sprinkler system.

Many houses have empty driveways. As I said the wealth of car top carrier's I saw the other day indicated up north was the weekend destination for many people.

Walking at 9:30 AM a lot different than walking at 7 AM. You feel the warmth of the sun. This is not a bad thing. Still a ton of dog walkers though. 

Two things caught my eye this morning. One was a flag hanging in almost a perfect Americana fashion. I love Memorial Day memories. The other was a purple bush. One shows appropriate respect for those who sacrificed. The other shows the glory of nature. Ah the fragrance as I walked under that bush. It was just wonderful and sense filling.

Have a good day my friends. Cook some burgers on the grill. Feel the sunshine on your body. Smell the flowers.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Security Blanket


Here is the prompt for the day from that WordPress 365 Days of Prompts article.
Memories for sale
On a weekend road trip, far away from home, you stumble upon a garage sale in a neighborhood you’re passing through. Astonished, you find an object among the belongings for sale that you recognize. Tell us about it.
I approach this writing prompt a little bit sideways.  The trip was not a weekend trip.  The town was not somewhere I was passing through. But once a long time ago I did find an object that I knew was far out of place had almost no meaning to anyone where I, anyone except for me.

I came to Michigan in 1974.  I hated the place.  My plan was to leave as soon as possible.  I was lonely.  As the academic year dragged on I was cold, very cold. I was homesick.

In 1974, you could not listen to your hometown radio stations over the internet.  Now when I need a dose of the Delaware Valley and its accent I pull up WXPN on Aha.  In that year, you could not email someone to tell them about what had happened in class that had frightened you, or challenged you, or left you puzzled.  If your wanted to talk about it in some detail with somebody who knew you, and not somebody you just met and let us face it everyone was someone I had just met, you had two choices. First there was the long-distance phone call and even after 10 the rates hurt.  Second was a letter.  Find an envelope and paper.  Write out legibly, always a challenge for me, your thoughts.  Borrow a stamp.  Go to the post box and drop it in.  Wait five days or six and see if the recipient wrote you back and if they even deigned to respond to what was on your mind.

Once I was six hundred miles away from home I was on you own in a culture and climate that was foreign and new.  Words didn’t have the same meanings.  Customs were not the same.  There were times when I just longed for some kind of connection with the life I used to know.

My main hobbies in the Godforsaken place I had come to were reading and shopping for LPs.  The key here was shopping not necessarily buying. Money was always tight.  Going to the used record stores to peruse the bins to see if some odd artist I had just gotten interested in could be found there on the cheap, was an afternoon’s outing. Ah the smell of vinyl in the afternoon of a Saturday.

Occasionally I would wander into other stores.  There were hippie places with bedspreads of many colors and incense of many smells.  There were real honest to God local bookstores with the newest volumes.  There were clothing stores with fashion but I did not tarry long there. Jeans and a flannel shirt, that was all I needed.  It was all anyone male or female needed in the mid-1970s.

One October afternoon I wandered into a used book store.  It had books crammed in floor to ceiling and had the smell of mold and must.  That afternoon I found myself looking in the history section. There I came upon a book that could only have come from my hometown, well at least my county.

In 1960-something New Jersey had celebrated it tercentenary.  In North American terms that was damn old. Tons of celebratory stuff marked with this weird logo were hawked.  I think we had purchased a number of anniversary bottles of brown glass blown in observance of the fete. 

My county wanted in on the 300th birthday party so they published a book called Fenwick’s Colony. It contained photos of ancient houses and people doing business in the contemporary environment.  There were pictures of all the towns in the county.

I knew the book well.  I knew that my house was in picture in the center of the volume.  Having pulled the book from the shelves I open it and looked at my home as it looked a decade before.  I flipped through the pages and there were pictures of people I knew and knew well.  Babe Huber was there as was Mr. Sparks and others. 

Flipping to the inside front cover I found a note gifting the book from one person I knew to another I knew of.  How this book had come 600 miles to a used book store was a mystery to me.  In reality it was probably bought at an estate sale and then shuffled around between book dealers until it came to rest in the middle of the Midwest.

However, the book found its way here didn’t matter.  Every page printed in faux sepia tones was something that was a connection with home.  I don’t know what the price was but I bought the damn thing at once.  I still have the volume although it appears my wife has put it in a box somewhere during a recent cleaning of the bookshelves. 


The book was something that was “of home.”  It reminded me of the place that had defined me.  Those pages were a connection to everything environmentally that had formed me.  It was a printed security blanket and I was damn glad to have it.

Hope Required


Today was a fairly quiet one at work.  Most of what I have done is simply sorting out minor problems for the mechanically challenged. One person seemed to have truly either lied to me. She had failed to abide by the number one rule that applies after seeing me, NO DRINKING.  Her loss.  Either she accepts my decision or she appeals it.  Either way she will be suffering economic consequences. The rules are simple, don’t drink and if it looks like you have been drinking, prove to me that you weren’t.  A simple urine test will resolve the question.

I have not really been checking Facebook or the news stream very often.  Two night ago, there was a terrible act of violence in England.  There has been precious little that is really meaningful in the electronic static stream.  The bomber has a surname that is Arabic sounding.  He died in the blast, I gather that makes him a suicide bomber.  Another person has been arrested but what his connection is to the dead little girls at the pop concert is uncertain.  Who plants a bomb to kill fifteen-year-old girls?

About the only horror that has not be inflicted on the world in my lifetime is the use of a nuclear bomb on a populated area.  Genocide of millions of people has been waged on several parts of the globe in my 61 years.  Hot wars and cold wars have been waged.  Acts of terror, mass and small, have been carried out.  To what end?

These deaths are not deaths that have furthered the chances of our species surviving the changing global climate.  These deaths have been carried out either in the furtherance of advancing one groups economic advantage over the other or to impose a certain ethical or moral code on “infidels”.  Death because group A eats pork and calls their God by a different name than the non-pork eating group B seems really stupid to me.

I can understand the economic battles.  Food, water, shelter and Wi-Fi these are things to blow up buildings and kill people for.  However, murder over what your call a God, a God that says to both groups you shall not murder makes no sense. 

The battles leave me weary.  The deaths are senseless.  The need to be on top in the battle of creeds and oaths seems frivolous.  Maybe it is my humanist roots showing that I believe in tolerance and coexistence.


Saying these things does not move me anywhere closer to a being a citizen of a world committed to survival.  I am a product of privilege.  My water has always been clean and my food supply steady. Not so much for so many in this overcrowded place.  How do I realistically do something that makes a difference?

I guess that is my starting point.  Starting from small acts what can I do to aid others as I pass through the remaining years of my life.  I guess that I can act with kindness and not turn away from the homeless people who are at the corners of every scene I pass through in this life. Maybe I can give some of the money I spend on coffee each day to something better.